Apr 11, 2019
Longtime buddies Will Crocker (Senior Director of Customer Experience) and Spencer Burke (VP of Growth) chat the return of Game of Thrones, a ban on the government from creating free tax-preparation software, and a potential ban on crypto mining in China. Also, Prince Harry calls for a ban on Fortnite?!
PJ: Hello again. Welcome back to Braze for Impact, your weekly tech industry discuss digest. This is PJ Bruno, and I'm thrilled to have with me two very close buddies. I have Will Crocker, senior director of CX, that's customer experience. Hi, Will.
Will: Hey, how you doing, PJ?
PJ: And also, of course, my good friend Spencer Burke, the head of the House Growth. He's here with us today.
Spencer: Hey, hey, it's good to be back.
PJ: It is good to be back.
Will: You guys grew a house?
PJ: I'm just trying to rewatch more Game of Thrones, and I had that moment where Melisandre's like, "Robert of the House Baratheon." And I wanted to do something similar for Spencer, but I don't know if it hit.
Spencer: PJ of the House Bruno.
PJ: Exactly. Just makes you sound more special, I think.
Will: So Game of Thrones is coming back real soon, right? What do you guys think?
PJ: Oh, yeah. Sunday night. I'm thrilled. I'm gonna be in the UK, so I'm trying to find people there that ... For a watch party, because as you know, Game of Thrones takes place in England. Or so it may seem. I'm pumped. I'm so freaking pumped for the last season. Spence, any predictions?
Spencer: I feel so far behind. I'm up to date, but my wife, Jenny, like you, is rewatching. She rewatched everything.
PJ: You have to.
Will: Everything? That's a lot.
Spencer: Over the past couple months. Yeah. And so I'm going through, and I'm like, "All right, who's this again? What did they do?" And since she's been rewatching it, I'll come in at season four and be like, "Oh yeah, that's the guy who ..." And she's like, "No, that hasn't happened yet." And then when she got [inaudible], I was like, "Oh, but that's the guy who did this." She's like, "No, that was three seasons ago."
Spencer: So I'm just totally discombobulated, but I know once it gets started, there's the action, there's the dragons. We have a big battle coming. Gonna get straight into it.
Will: Yeah, and you have a cheat sheet that's going to tell you what's going on in the new episodes.
Will: Meanwhile, I am my girlfriend's cheat sheet, and I am in the same place as you, so I'm just gonna start making things up. I'm just gonna go out there and just say, "That's the secret Stark over there, that one. Just pay attention."
PJ: They're gonna need to level up those recaps. That's gonna become a five to 10-minute thing of just, "Okay, wait, what ... There's all the sub-threads."
Will: I'm actually shocked HBO didn't release a pre-episode which was a condensed, 30-minute explainer of what happened in the last season. They should've done that this week. They could've gotten a ton of views on that.
PJ: Dude, tell me about it. I really ... I need something like that. I need-
Spencer: That must exist somewhere. A supercut.
Will: I'm sure YouTube has created that.
PJ: There's a fan out there that's made that, for sure.
Will: My main prediction is that HBO is gonna make a lot of money.
PJ: And then they're gonna go back, they're gonna do a prequel, right? I think there's already talk about some sort of ... Around the time of Aegon and the Mad King. [crosstalk]
Will: There are apparently four or five in production right now.
PJ: It's a cash cow. What're you gonna do?
Will: Got to milk it.
PJ: That's what you do with a cash cow, man.
Spencer: Did you guys watch SNL this past weekend?
PJ: I didn't, no. Was there-
Spencer: Kit Harington was the host.
PJ: Oh, nice.
Will: Yeah, he looked like he's 12 years old when I saw that ... The photo. It was really weird.
PJ: When he's clean-shaven, he does look very young.
Spencer: He also has a very laddish accent compared to his Jon Snow character. But they had a skit that was a parody of all of the spin-offs, so they had a Game of Thrones that was a Law & Order ripoff, just all of these different versions taking characters and then putting them into a sitcom or a drama or whatever. It was really funny.
PJ: Classic. Yeah, I mean, I wonder ... Those guys ... You would think you just have a calling card to any job you want after you were on Game of Thrones, but I don't know. It's tough to break out of that when you've made a role for yourself.
Will: Yeah, you can get pigeonholed pretty easily, I think. I think some of the other characters like that, like Robb Stark, who died seasons ago, what's he been in? Who knows?
PJ: I don't know. I just see flashes of his face in different-
Spencer: Actually, I do know.
PJ: You do know?
Spencer: He's in that Bodyguard show.
Will: Oh, really?
Spencer: I forget what ... Is it Netflix?
Will: Is Sean Bean at a Starbucks now, shilling coffees? Is that where he is after he said "No, I need more money," and they were like, "Well, we'll kill you in season one. It's fine."
Spencer: Yeah, he was in the Bodyguard on Netflix. Check it out.
PJ: Check it out. We're plugging it. Plugging it here. All right, guys, we could talk about Game of Thrones forever, we might as well move on. But in light of Game of Thrones coming up and all the exiles that happen throughout Game of Thrones, this is the Banishment Episode-
Speaker 8: You are banished!
PJ: -of Braze for Impact.
Spencer: Dun dun dun.
PJ: Exactly. Dun dun dun dun dun dun ... We're really thrilled about it. We're gonna talk about some bans and some tentative bans that are on our radar right now. Starting off with number one, the House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill that includes language that would permanently bar the Internal Revenue Service from creating a free, electronic service for Americans to file their taxes, advancing a primary objective of the industry of for-profit companies like Intuit and H&R Block. Companies like Intuit, which produces TurboTax, which I use, and H&R Block allow most Americans to file for free as long as they earn less than $66,000 for the year, but most eligible Americans don't take advantage of that, with just three percent filing for free. Are you guys TurboTaxers? Do you-
Will: TurboTax, yeah, regrettably.
PJ: We subscribe over here. TurboTax. Yeah, I was one of those late bloomers for doing my own taxes. It was kind of like you'd check off things as becoming an adult. "Oh, got to do this. Got to do this." Taxes was the last thing. It was like my dad did it, and I paid a guy to literally handle all of it. Now I'm TurboTax-ing, and I'm a grown, grown man now.
Spencer: Consider yourself an adult?
PJ: I thought ... For me, that was the last bit of criteria to say, "Okay, I've made it. I'm an adult."
Will: It's truly ridiculous that we have to file like that. It's crazy. No other country in the world does it that way. Apparently, I think, in the UK, you have to make ... This number might be a little bit wrong, but it's something like 125,000 pounds a year to have to file. Other than that, what happens is the government just mails you your tax return, because they've got all the data like the IRS does. And they say, "If you want to contest this, go for it. Otherwise, here's your check."
Spencer: Good to go.
PJ: Yeah. Super easy. Why are we making it so hard on ourselves?
Will: It also really screws poor people as well, here, because people have this idea in America that paying taxes ... You are always paying your taxes, right? Filing taxes your taxes is synonymous with paying your taxes. When in reality, if you make $30,000 a year, you're almost certainly going to get a refund. They're leaving money on the table, and if the IRS isn't automatically doing it, they don't get the refund, and IRS doesn't call them to complain, either.
Spencer: They have the information. Especially for a simple filer. You're just getting your deductions, you worked at the same place, you've lived in the same state. They know ... They know it. They could just do it. Estonia does this. Estonia. But apparently, I was reading-
Will: They have e-citizenship, too, though.
PJ: It just would ... Is it ... What's the reasoning? It's just it would take a lot of work for that to happen?
Spencer: Well, there's a couple of reasons. One, these companies spend a lot of money lobbying our Representatives.
Will: Tens and tens of millions of dollars every year.
Spencer: The second is the party that prefers to remove taxes, they tend to do it for the people with the most money. But that aside, they think that if it's too easy ... Too easy to pay your taxes, it'll be as a result too easy for our Congress to increase taxes. So they try to make it harder so that people have to go through the pain and we all hate taxes. So there's-
PJ: So wait, the thinking is that taxes will be increased if we did less work?
Will: They want you to associate misery and pain and nonsense with taxation every year, and they've been highly successful, I would say.
PJ: Yeah, tell me about it.
Will: So, it's ... I don't know. I hope that someday we get there, but this bill that's about to go through with the tax free preparation software, banning all that stuff, it's, I believe, a bipartisan-supported bill, which just makes me really, really ask virtually everyone in Congress, "Guys, what the hell's going on?"
PJ: I mean, it's just they're making money, right? Is it just-
Will: Yeah. I think it costs the IRS more money to deal with these external agencies, too. Because you have to imagine on the technical side, they're building integrations and accepting all these form factors from all these different places. If the IRS just built this internally, or some other service built it that was easy to use and free, everyone would start using that, and then all of a sudden all of the overhead costs and all that starts to go down, too.
PJ: Well, let's hope there's a different future for us, because I think that should be a free tool, hands down.
Spencer: For sure. Have any of you guys had to deal with cryptocurrency and paying taxes on that?
Will: I have, yes. It was pretty damn confusing. That might be the exception for where you might have to file something yourselves.
Spencer: Yeah, right. Here's this new, sketchy asset that I made some money on.
Will: Yeah, I made ... Not, I would say, a well-informed investment on it, because I don't think virtually anyone's investment on it is well-informed, unless you're a Ph.D. Mathematician who's dug into the source code. But yeah, I'd go as one of the lucky ones and got out while I was sensible, so I had to figure out where the hell to put that in TurboTax. It was weird.
PJ: I'm sure it was. Did you, as well, or-
Spencer: Yeah, this year. I'm almost embarrassed to admit it now, but-
PJ: Well, since you're mentioning crypto ... Nice segue. Appreciate it. Onto our next ban. China considers ban on cryptocurrency ... Mining, that is, because it's a stupid waste of energy. Regulators in China are considering a ban on cryptocurrency mining as an undesirable economic activity, according to a government document released Monday. Basically, the whole thinking is that it's a huge waste on valuable resources because it takes so much energy to do this crypto mining. According to a recent report in Nature Sustainability, crypto mining emits anywhere between three million and 15 million tons of carbon dioxide globally. China making a decision that's good for the environment? I'm a little confused.
Will: Yeah, although they've actually been getting a lot better about that. I think they won the race to the bottom in terms of environmental impact, and then realized how awful the bottom was and are trying to desperately claw up the other side now.
Spencer: Yeah, I think with the Olympics, when they had to just close factories so that it wasn't so polluted that people were hacking up a lung while running a marathon.
Will: Yeah. It's still not good there, but they're doing a lot more, I think. Anyway, on the crypto subject, I just don't know. It's just like ... I see the potential, maybe, of something like this in the future, but right now, I read some article ... This was a year ago, that said that a year ago, Bitcoin itself was taking as much electrical energy every month as the nation of Germany.
Spencer: I think it's one percent of global energy consumption is going to Bitcoin mining.
Will: Yeah, and they kept saying that it's gonna go up. And that's only Bitcoin, too. There are, what, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of other cryptocurrencies? If you assume Bitcoin is maybe half the market, probably? Something like that? Or maybe it's a third. Who knows? Anyways, that means a huge portion of global energy is essentially right now going to give people another store of money. Banking's a hell of a lot cheaper. Do you know how much energy J.P. Morgan probably spends? I don't know what it is, but I guarantee you it's not one percent of energy.
Spencer: Especially since most of the mining happens in China, and they're still pretty reliant on coal for a lot of that energy consumption, so not great with the whole global warming thing and the future of humanity, but who knows?
PJ: Yeah, but I mean, you mentioned it, Will. Maybe sometimes you need to hit the bottom first to know that you need to dig yourselves out.
Will: I just want to thank you guys as the hosts of this podcast for picking really uplifting topics. [crosstalk]
Spencer: Do you have a story about hitting rock bottom you'd like to share with us?
Will: No, that's coming in an upcoming episode of When Shift Hits the Fan.
PJ: That's true. Look forward to our Rock Bottom Episode, starring Will Crocker.
Spencer: Will, didn't you ... You were telling me before the show a little bit about graphics cards and how the changing and use in mining was affecting the prices.
Will: Oh, yeah, there was a point where I ... I play computer games, so I own a graphics card, and there was a point where I bought a graphics card, and usually any piece of technology you buy depreciates over time. It's just because newer stuff comes out, and it gets better. But the market for GPUs, which are graphical processing units, was so nuts because of Bitcoin a couple years ago that I realized my graphics card had appreciated almost 50% at one point. And there just came a point when I was like, "Should I just sell this thing and wait for a while and get out of the market?" But it's absolutely insane how much the prices were fluctuating based upon that. If anybody who's an nVidia stockholder, you rode that wave right with everyone else.
PJ: The graphics card biz. I see you, Will.
Will: I'm long on the graphics card biz. They have real applications, too, like neural net processing and a lot of the kind of things that you see people doing, like libraries like TensorFlow to do understanding complex deep learning problems in computer science. All of that requires GPUs, essentially, so it's gonna come forward, but it's gonna fall a little bit for the crypto.
PJ: Will, since you are such a gamer, and I am as well ... Spencer, were you a little bit in your heyday, probably?
Spencer: A little bit.
PJ: I mean, I think given that, Will, you should probably take some beef with Prince Harry, because this next article: Prince Harry calls for a ban on Fortnite. I know that's not your top game, but still, I mean, let's take a look at this.
Will: Yeah. Fortnite's all right.
PJ: Ahead of one of the biggest nights in the gaming industry, Prince Harry has called for a ban on Fortnite due to its supposed addictive qualities. Harry said, "That game shouldn't be allowed." In a British accent, of course. "That game shouldn't be allowed. Where's the benefit of having it in your household?" And then, also, Harry suggested Fortnite, a shooter game focused on survival, was responsible for tearing families apart. "It's like waiting for the damage to be done and kids turning up on your doorstep and families being broken down."
Spencer: Is this real?
PJ: This is real. This is a legitimate quote.
PJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah, no.
Will: You're tearing me apart, Lisa!
PJ: "You're tearing me apart, Prince Harry!" Yeah. So that's where he stands on it. Ironically enough, he feels the same way about social media, feels like it's real poison in general. And I guess a day later, him and Meghan Markle started their own Instagram page, so you can follow them on that, which is nice.
Will: Oh, yeah, which also isn't destroying society at all, right? That's just totally fine that everyone's addicted to Instagram and those things.
PJ: Exactly. I mean, ban on addictive substances, i.e. Video games. This is ... We're addicted to our tech, obviously, right? But thoughts on video games? To me, my argument was always: video games, yes, they can suck time and everything, but to me, it was always ... It's like an interactive art form. I'm witnessing somebody's art they've put together. Especially MMORPGs, massive multiplayer online role-playing games. Anything that has a big, big, huge world, and I just want to run around all of it, I just really appreciate the design and thought that goes into all of it. That's my feeling.
Will: It's like a concert in some ways, right? Like at a concert, you're coming to watch music, but you're also coming together to experience that with everyone else around you, and I think multiplayer games are the same way. You're creating that human interaction, which creates the art around it.
Will: Yeah, I don't know about this. I wonder if EA bribed Prince Harry to pick on Fortnite. It was like, "Epic Games needs to be taken down a notch." Because couldn't you just make this claim about most games?
Spencer: Yeah, why Fortnite, Prince Harry?
Will: Just because it's the big target. I don't know.
PJ: Yeah, that's probably what it was. He was thinking about it, and it's just-
Spencer: It's the only video game he's heard of.
PJ: I mean, for a guy who smokes as much pot as Prince Harry, I would've thought that video games would be right ... What do you do, then, when you're stoned?
Will: Is he a toker? I didn't know that.
Spencer: Yeah, if we want to talk about tearing families apart, how about the royal family of the British Empire?
PJ: Oh, man. Dude. Counterargument in your face.
Will: Whoa, guys. Whoa, guys. We have EMEA customers here.
PJ: Of course, we're just playing. This is all in jest. But no, I think it's a genuine thing. I'm sure plenty of parents are concerned when their kids are spending hours and hours in their room. I'm sure they also don't understand how social gaming actually is.
Spencer: Especially Fortnite.
PJ: Especially Fortnite. But what I will say, if you want to ban Apex Legends, you can just go ahead and do that as far as I'm concerned, because I can't even get in a session without throwing the remote against the wall, everyone's so good.
Spencer: Talk to this guy.
Will: It's just because you're bad. But it's just the ... Real talk. I'm sorry. Don't just run around in the open and just flail about. Hide behind things. Shoot people.
Spencer: You should get a lesson from Will.
PJ: I thought that when you run out in the middle of the board and you kind of scattershot and spin in circles-
Spencer: He can't be taught.
Will: I need clay to mold.
PJ: I'm too old. I'm too old. This old sponge is dried up. There's not much I can learn left.
Spencer: "This Old Sponge," that's our new show.
Will: On the subject of ... "This Old Sponge," with PJ Bruno. But on the subject of addiction and games, I do think it's a problem. It is something that ... it's not great for kids to spend infinite hours on these sort of things, but I think there's some interesting, far less intrusive ways than banning the stupid thing. I think ... I've seen some things I think in Vietnam or China, somewhere in Asia, there're some countries now which have stipulations that if somebody has n hours of consecutive play time, that they then have to pop up a message that says, "Hey, are you sure you want to keep playing? Maybe it's time to go take a break or go outside."
PJ: That's pretty cool.
Spencer: I like that.
Will: Or I think some of the games also have something where you have to ... you get reduced experience or something like that after you play for too many consecutive hours.
Spencer: In-game punishment.
Will: So the game ... Yeah, so you basically get decreasing rewards in the margin.
Spencer: That's smart.
PJ: That is really smart. Or if they could have a feature that causes your parent to care more and actually put some restrictions on how much you're playing the game. That's just me. Anyways, we're at our time. Will, thank you so much for being here.
Will: Thank you, PJ. I hope you find yourself in the game someday, and stop hating the game. Hate the player.
PJ: That's true. And I'll never stop searching for myself in-game. Spencer, thanks for coming along for the ride.
Spencer: Thanks, Peej.
PJ: And you, too. Thanks for joining us, guys. You take care.